Thursday, May 22, 2008

How to tell a person's character by the way they respond to opposition

In case you didn't know, I was a psychology minor in college. Fascinating stuff. I love to learn about myself, and about everyone around me. What makes them tick? Why do they respond like they do? How does nature and nurture affect the outcome? And why can't everyone just be like me? Just kidding. ;-)

In general, people tend to filter the information they receive through their own "lens" of preconceived notions & experiences, reading their autobiography into other people's lives, or projecting their own home movies onto other people's behavior. (paraphrased from The Seven Habits...) So true.

It's amazing what you can tell about a person when you disagree with them. Will they become immediately defensive? Will they respect your convictions, just as your respect theirs? Will personal attacks follow? Is anyone ever swayed "to the other side," or do people pretty much stay planted in the first thought/ impression, even if it doesn't hold water? Not saying that either side in this case is like that.

I've had some sweet "good goin'" emails from friends. I've had some respectful disagreements, which I welcome. I respect you, you respect me, and it's all okay. I've also had some rather hateful notes, and a couple with personal attacks on me or my family. That, of course, is uncalled for, unprofessional, and just plain mean. Come on, y'all, I'm not being mean to you, so don't be mean to me.

Problems or differences should be recognized as opportunities to deeply understand and help others. "The word 'crisis' in Chinese is written as two character. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity." (John F. Kennedy) We have an opportunity here to better understand each other.

Now, when people start using personal attacks to manipulate others they lose credibility. It also speaks volumes about the foundation of your friendship. I don't take myself so seriously that I can't see some humor in criticisms. Still, anything very personal can sting. I try to exercise restraint in responding to these. I usually just respond, "I hope this doesn't affect our friendship..." because I am, after all, the "bigger person." Heh heh.

Often, either the person writing the attack desires to change the subject, trying to distract me from the real issue because they don't have enough facts to stay on topic, or they have confidence issues about themselves. (In either case, they need pity, not anger...) Some people will try to pull you down no matter what. These people become obsessed with making the other person lose, even at their own expense. This is the philosophy of adversarial conflict, war, or of highly dependent persons.

I've also been blessed by a couple of "empathetic listening" messages. God is good to balance out the emails for me. :-) I didn't even think to pray for that!

Empathetic listening is listening with intent to understand the other person's frame of reference and feelings. You listen with your ears, eyes and heart.

"Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival - to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, and to be appreciated." People who understand that will go far in this world. It is a blessing to have conversations with them. People like this are rather rare, though, so when I come across one, I always try to personally thank them. You know who you are, my dear reader. Thank you again. Keep in mind, this person respectfully disagreed with me. And that is okay. As she put it, "we are two smart mothers trying to do what we think is best for our families and being willing to stand up for it." Who can argue with that? We both did our research, we both prayed about it, and we are both willing to stand up for our convictions. It's okay to disagree. Think: Principle-based behavior.
So the next time you disagree with someone, first do your research. Are you right? Do you really know all the facts? Either way, be willing to listen and hear the other person out. Maybe there are things you don't understand. If you still feel convicted about your stand, remain respectful and thoughtful. It does no good to bring the relationship down a notch just to get the last word in. Think Win/Win - Seek mutual benefit. 'Nuf said!


Anonymous said...

Disagreement is the "spice" of life =) right?

Suzanne said...

I agree. For the most part my recent post on being a Keeper at Home received positive comments, but just 1 woman who took offense got so up in arms that I she started name calling and assuming she knew my intentions and assumed they were not pure. Did I strike a nerve? She was angry that I didn't seem more tolorant. So while she is screaming TOLERANCE PEACE AND LOVE FOR ALL! Where is the tolerance for my opinion? I my opinion is only allowed because it aligns with hers, is that really tolorance or isn't that called agreement?

Abraham Joshua Heschel:
"The problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one's own tradition with reverence for different traditions."

Robert F. Kennedy:
"Ultimately, America's answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired."

"Monsieur l'abbe, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."

Suzanne said...

I meant she started name called, I did not banter back with her.